The perfect pop album for the summer -- or any other season, for that matter.
The opening track on the second full-length from Baltimore's The Oranges Band is at the same time extremely out of place and entirely appropriate. "Believe" is an airy, herky-jerky, mid-tempo rocker that wouldn't sound out of place on Spoon's Gimme Fiction. This isn't entirely surprising, as Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler served a two-year stint as Spoon's touring bassist. But in the context of the rest of the record, which is one of the most impressive collections of gorgeous, delicate pop songs in recent memory, it seems an extremely odd choice to open the proceedings. But it starts to make sense toward the end of the song when Kuebler repeatedly, insistently coos, "Believe", almost as if it was some sort of mantra.
It might not make sense until you've taken in the entire album. But, without getting too dramatic here, The World and Everything in It is the kind of record that, in fact, makes you believe... believe in that mythical power of rock and roll... believe that a simple set of songs can actually have an impact on your life. But the real genius of the album is that it does this in a rather unconventional manner. Instead of some grand, sweeping, emotional statement often associated with "important" rock albums, or an over-jubilant sense of well-being that comes with some buoyant pop albums, The World and Everything in It works on a more subtle level. It leaves you with the feeling that, "Hey, maybe life isn't so bad after all." It's a very reassuring record, one that doesn't immediately grab you, but that's sort of the whole point. It slowly draws you into its world, where it's surely summer, but that doesn't mean there are no worries. There are multiple references to evil, and there's a sense that something sinister is lurking. The album's first single is titled "Ride the Nuclear Wave", but it's a joyous, upbeat number complete with a "oh oh ohhhhh oh!" chorus that you will undoubtedly be chanting for days upon first hearing it. The album is true to its title in the sense that it gives you the feeling that there's no use ignoring the dark forces at work in the world, so you may as well just enjoy what there is to enjoy and let everything else sort itself out.
Or maybe that's all a load of crap. It doesn't matter if it is, because that wouldn't diminish what The Oranges Band has achieved here. Forget an overarching theme -- just taken individually, these 11 tracks are enough to establish the group as one of the most appealing bands around. On earlier recordings the group was without peer in unleashing a pop fury on songs like "Success" (from 2002's On TV EP) or "OK Apartment" (from 2003's All Around) that inspired dizzying, perhaps dangerous, fits of pogoing. It was when the group wasn't going full steam ahead that things were more hit or miss.
But everything on Everything works. Nothing matches the delirious adrenaline rush of those earlier tracks, but then again, nothing the band has done before can match the sheer beauty of a song like "Open Air", a tune that practically begs to be played solely in a cruising convertible. It shows off the band's newfound restraint, as the guitar strings -- which used to be pounded at almost vintage Wedding Present speed -- are given more room to breathe. The nostalgic lyrics ("Amber was 19/ Lucky for us she looked 23/ She said that we could do anything and we did it all/ We lived downtown/ It was pretty punk for kids to live downtown/ Pretty punk of us to get kicked out/ But we didn't care/ At all") fit in with the summery theme of the record, but it's the way Kuebler delivers the lines that make them work so well.
Kuebler's voice can take some getting used to, as he's far from the classic indie rock singer in that he actually sings. Morrissey might actually be the best reference point here, as even though Kuebler doesn't sound quite like the Moz, he shares his tendency for dramatically elongated syllables. His vocals used to be somewhat hidden behind thin layers of distortion, but now they are front and center, although just about every song features some impeccably placed harmonies.
There's also a nostalgic feel to much of the album, from the lyrics to the actual music. While it hardly feels retro, many of the songs are built on the most classic foundations of surf and '50s rock riffs. "Ride the Wild Wave" conjures visions Frankie Avalon, while "White Ride", looks to any number of Chuck Berry songs for inspiration for its main riff. Drummer Dave Voyles expertly drives the song forward -- as he does on most of these tracks -- and this is a pretty good approximation of what The Strokes might sound like if those boys ever spent some time in the sunshine.
If the band isn't exactly breaking new ground with the elements of its sound, they more than make up for it with attention to detail. Instead of recording the album in a traditional studio, the band moved into a Baltimore house, built their own, and recorded it there. It was a move that made plenty of sense, because as effortlessly catchy as the group's songs are, TOB has always been rather meticulous regarding its output. Multiple songs from their debut EP on Lookout! were re-recorded for their debut full-length, and it took a full two years to conjure up the 40 minutes worth of material for this album. Kuebler handled the production duties himself and it's clear, from the reverb in "I'll Never Be Alone" to the tambourine on the title track, every sound was given very careful consideration. Each song contains at least one truly memorable moment, a feat few albums can boast.
This is the part of the review where you might usually read something such as, "In a just world, it would be The Oranges Band, and not (insert band that uses hair product and/or eyeliner) that would be ruling the airwaves right now." But that would go against the point of this whole record. The world is what it is. There's good and there's bad. And The World and Everything In It is one of those slices of good that makes it that much easier to deal with everything else.